The photo above (by my husband) represented to me what Singapore is, at least through my eyes. Far from the tourist-filled parks along Clark Quay and Orchard Road, the fast lanes in the MRT, the magnificent man-made structures that signify the city-state’s modernity, is the heart of Singapore — it’s people.
Singapore has almost no natural resources, is very small in terms of land area, and also very small in terms of population. Lee Kuan Yew is the legendary leader of Singapore, and rightfully so, but the Singaporeans, I realized, are the reason Singapore is Singapore now. While walking along Singapore’s streets I’ve wondered how Singapore came to be. I’ve wondered whether they gave up certain liberties in exchange for their life now, and what these liberties are. I’ve wondered how the old people feel and how the young people feel, and what they look forward to in the future.
Because we lived far from the city center, we were able to interact with some locals, buy food from their market, ride the bus and train all the time, and walk with them. It was unusual to find me engaging in small talk with a Singaporean. I never engaged in small talk with a Singaporean not because I didn’t want to but because I felt shy and it was not typical of me to be shy with strangers. I was shy to approach them and ask them how they are (I know, but I usually do this when I go to another place, literally ask the first local I see how they are doing).
Singapore fascinated me because of its eerie silence. Being Filipino, having lived in the Philippines my whole life, I am surrounded by a big family and most of my neighbors know my business like its their business. I do know through accounts of people I know and by reading that Singapore is a “disciplined” country. What I didn’t expect was the city’s eerie silence. There was silence everywhere that it surprised me when a drunk teenager was garbling on one of our bus rides to home. There was silence everywhere that a horn from a car would make me jump. There was silence that I would jump off my chair when I hear a slight commotion. There was silence. But I kept myself fascinated and we walked all the time to absorb all the things that fascinated us.
Here are the 10 things I found fascinating in Singapore:
1.The time difference. There is technically no time difference between the Philippines and Singapore, but sunrise in Singapore is at 7AM and sunset is at 7PM. So, no matter how early we try to wake up, we cannot do much because the city is still pitch dark at 5AM. My husband’s barkada joked that as soon as you finish eating breakfast in Singapore, you will then proceed to making lunch. Lunch is still 12 noon. The time difference is also one thing to consider when making itineraries as most museums do not open until 9AM or 10AM. Also, meal times will find restaurants, fastfood chains, and hawker centers crowded, so make sure you get there ahead of everybody else.
Budget Tip: To make the most of your time in Singapore, visit places that are near each other. For example, Sentosa Island + Vivo City + Cable Car + Mt. Faber and Henderson Waves can be visited in one day because they are located near each other and you only need to get off one MRT station.
2. The local bakeries. They are like Breadtalk and Breadtalk is everywhere. My sister loves Breadtalk but the bakery is kind of expensive here in the Philippines so we were happily surprised when the local bakery near our cousin’s place was like Breadtalk — the varieties, the packaging, the taste, and less expensive than Breadtalk.
Budget Tip: Bring the baked goods as pasalubong or as breakfast and snacks for the day. Local bakeries will also sell their own version of the kaya spread, which can also be brought for pasalubong. I recommend Bengawan Solo’s kaya spread (SG3.50).
3. The public transportation. If you are from Cebu and you swear by the efficiency of our jeepney’s number system, you will find it easy to understand Singapore’s bus route system. The two systems are very similar, except Singapore’s buses are air-conditioned (so much we always get off the bus freezing) and very clean (because no one eats inside the bus). The bus drivers are also not kaskasero. Singapore’s train system is incomparable to ours. Also very clean.
Budget Tip: Use the public transportation to get to your destination. It is way, way cheaper than taxi and Uber and could prove to be just as convenient as long as you carefully plan your itinerary. My cousin helped us save some SG7.00 because she provided all four of us with EZ-link cards but if you cannot borrow an EZ-link card from someone you know, you can buy the Singapore Tourist Pass for SG10 (1 day), SG16 (2 days) and SG20 (3 days) or the Singapore Tourist Pass Plus for SG28 (1 day) and $SG38 (3 days). If our cousin was not kind enough to let us borrow her EZ-link cards, we would have bought the 3-day Singapore Tourist Pass Plus and just reloaded the card on our remaining days because the Plus card has a freebies (currently it’s free entrance to the Chinatown Heritage Centre and a complimentary Singapore sling). The EZ-link card can be used for both bus and train rides.
** What we also loved about the EZ-link cards is the flash-pay function. We were able to use the extra money we had in our cards to pay for food at 7-11, McDonald’s, and the supermarket, and some things we bought at Popular (a bookstore).
** Do not let you EZ-link card balance reach below SG5.0 when you plan to ride a train because the electronic doors will not let you in. My brother experienced this and because we were at the Marina Bay station (lots of people), he has to line up for more than 5 minutes to have his card reloaded. My brother though met a fellow Pinoy who advised him to get a “one-way” card, which will cost you the amount you will spend to your destination. That way no more remaining amount in your card. My brother bought that one-way card on our last train ride and I thought that was practical.
** If you cannot help but hail a taxi, I found Uber easier and you get to choose the size of the automobile, which helped us on our way to the airport because all four of us were able to fit all our 10 bags in a Honda Stream. Oh, and while we’re at Uber, you can use my code: psychec13ue to get SG$10 or Php200 discount. 🙂
4. The cleanliness. I was surprised and quite disappointed to learn that eating and drinking are prohibited inside public transportation (buses and trains). Like many Pinoys, I love to eat while commuting (it saves time and my stomach!). Apparently, Singapore’s public transportation system is well maintained and clean because eating and drinking are prohibited. It was too bad we cannot munch on chips and gobble the burgers, or sip on coffee, while on a 1-hour bus ride to home. You won’t need to hold your urine when you get home because almost all public restrooms were very clean (especially the ones near Makansutra and inside ION Orchard!).
5. The left side. Our cousin advised us to walk on the left side. The left side is the “slow” lane, reserved for people who are walking slow or walking aimlessly like us in most days we were at the city. This is also so that the traffic flow for commuters who are hurrying to and from work is not hindered by the slow moving ones.
6. The Singapore “near.” Singapore “near” and Philippine “near” are not the same. Philippine’s “near” is a five-minute walk or a five-minute drive. Singapore’s “near” is 15-minute walk or five-block walk. Singapore’s 15 minutes is different from Philippine 15 minutes. Our cousin’s place to the airport was approx. 8 kilometers and the Uber driver took only 12 minutes to reach the airport.
7. The courteousness. People in buses and trains automatically stand up and offer their seats to old persons, pregnant women or just women in general, the handicapped even if they are not sitting at the reserved seats. We have also met people who instantly offered to help us — with directions, most especially. This was fascinating to see because I have heard that Singaporeans are not “friendly.” Well, they are not feeling close like we Filipinos are, but I realized kindness is universal.
8. The marketing and the market. Singapore is big in marketing. The minute I booked our plane tickets I immediately went to Your Singapore to know where to go. And, the country knows how to market itself. The web site presented many places that I found interesting only to find out that the images in the web site were taken by professionals, at angles I would not normally be taking when walking down Chinatown. But I was fascinated by their marketing because I found it effective. I was captured by the vibrancy that they were trying to sell only to realize that the country is eerily silent.
I also loved the Singaporean market near our cousin’s place. It was just like any other market — chaotic, sells fresh and dried fish. Except, and it’s a big exception, it’s not dirty and the floors are kept dry and clean. My husband said he never saw a fly. I thought I saw a fly but I could no longer recall if I truly saw a fly. I love that there was always a food court/food centre. It makes the humble livelihood of selling ordinary food a decent way of living.
Budget Tip: Eat at hawker centres. This actually proved difficult because I realized hawker centres are not all over Singapore (unlike carenderias where you can find them in every nook and cranny in the Philippines. There are designated places for hawker centres. Google Map can help but I’m sure asking a local would be better as they know more than Google Map. 🙂
9. The cost of living. Singapore, they say, is one of the most expensive cities in the world. But I realized some Singaporean prices are at par, if not at times, even cheaper than Philippine prices (e.g. a carton of strawberries at Giant sells for SG$2.9, while the same carton of strawberries are sold at Rustans for about Php400). How can you save on cost of living in Singapore? The truth is I don’t know. Just make sure you have a return ticket?
10. The laughter, or the lack thereof. They say the grass is always greener on the other side. I say, we just need to diligently water the grass on our side to make it as green as the other side. One thing I observed in Singapore is the lack of laughter. I only know Singapore’s history through books and through lessons in comparative politics, but I have not talked with a Singaporean who was there at the time the country was building itself. It could be that the citizens gave up laughter in exchange for the comfort they have now. It could have been a worthy exchange. But all the time I was in Singapore I longed for the sound of laughter — in the neighbors, in the streets, from afar — that came from a people who seemed to be enjoying life.
This wraps up my blog posts on Singapore. 🙂 It has been a wonderful week in the city-state. Though there were many places we weren’t able to visit, I was grateful for the opportunity to just be there. I would try to make a mock budget and itinerary for a 3-day trip to Singapore for those who do not have the luxury of leaving work for more than the weekend or the long holiday.
P.S. Thanks to my husband, my sister, and my cousin for some of the photos I used in this blog post and in all the other blog posts about Singapore.
P.P.S. Big thanks to our cousin! The reason why Singapore is my first international destination is because my cousin keeps on bugging me to visit her. Haha.. We’ll be back. 😛